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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is now out on Playstation 4 and our Alan Stock is here to break down everything you need to know in our ComiConverse review.
The Uncharted games make no secret of being hugely inspired by Indiana Jones. Nathan Drake, the wise-cracking, acrobatic, treasure-hunter hops around the world, following ancient clues and discovering lost cities. There’s always a mean villain with hordes of armed goons, and the games are like a blockbuster movie – packed full of adventure and action sequences. Uncharted 4, we are promised by developer Naughty Dog, is the final instalment – and it feels as Indiana Jones as ever. This time you team up with a close family member, Drake swings around ruins with his new whip-like grappling hook, and there’s a chase sequence where you’re fighting and jumping around between moving vehicles, straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But after three great installments in the series, is Uncharted‘s fourth outing doomed to follow Indiana Jones’ legacy like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
Review: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
After developer Naughty Dog released the phenomenal post-apocalyptic The Last of Us in 2013 – many wondered why they bothered revisiting Uncharted. After all, by Uncharted 3, things were starting to feel a bit too familiar and the series was getting a little tired. And indeed, in A Thief’s End you immediately get just what you expect from an Uncharted game. The visuals are jaw-dropping and it’s entertaining as ever, but aside from a few nice glimpses into Nate’s new, settled married life, its business as usual – exploring ruins, caves, and getting into gun fights – with a few flashbacks thrown in to flesh out the relationship with your buddy this time around – Nate’s long-lost brother Sam.
To begin with, new gameplay ideas are thin on the ground. A grappling hook has been added to Nate’s toolkit, letting you swing from preset anchors, and you can shimmy on the rope or use it to wall run. There’s some new slippery scree allowing for some panicky sliding action. The climbing (which is a big part of the game) has improved – routes are a little less obvious and require a bit more exploration and observation. However, Drake still scampers along them like a monkey, removing any real feeling of accomplishment apart from mashing the X button and pointing in the right direction. Uncharted controls once again feel a little loose and actions lack solidity, but usually you’ll be too caught-up in the adventure to care.
As usual, the writing is good and the light-hearted characters are likeable, with the return of a few series veterans. Sam – Nate’s brother – isn’t the most interesting addition to the roster, being extremely similar to his sibling, but the riffs between Nate and wife Eleanor are well done. As usual, Drake chats away with his companions during adventure sections with entertaining banter and comments relevant to the situation. The characters certainly look the part and the facial animation has improved too, but unfortunately it’s starting to veer into uncanny valley territory when they talk. The story is pretty generic Uncharted fare – following a pirate’s trail of clues around the globe whilst dealing with some rather unmemorable villains.
So, all is well and good for the first chunk of the game; its nothing too fresh or demanding, but it’s entertaining. But A Thief’s End switches gear around Chapter 10, when you travel to Madagascar. You are plopped in a jeep – a new gameplay mechanic for the series – and then given free reign to drive around the side of a mountain, ploughing through mud, rivers and jungles. You can hop out to explore ruins and approach enemy outposts as you see fit. It’s not a truly open world but the game suddenly feels a lot less linear – and the sense of freedom in how to approach encounters is very welcome. The driving is alright as well, with your buddies commenting helpfully on your awful steering skills.
From here on, the game really improves and feels more engaging. Environments generally become more open, with more exploration required. The grappling hook is used in more interesting and fun ways. A winch on your jeep reveals some pretty amazing cable physics as you wrap it dynamically around trees and hook it up to itself. There’s a great treasure-hunt section with a motorboat as you hop between desert islands looking for clues. Later on, you find a piton (basically a wall spike) which you stab into the wall in climbing sections, adding a nice bit of interactivity to scaling cliffs but sadly not used enough, in my opinion.
Combat encounters improve as well, often being in multi-level, open areas, with lots of sneaking and climbing opportunities and multiple avenues of approach or escape. A new addition here is long grass, which Nate can hide in and drag enemies into for a quick neck snap (for all Nate’s supposed morality, he still has no qualms murdering his way through the game). The grappling hook can also be used to swing into enemies or quickly move around an area if you’ve been spotted. These combat arenas are great fun.
There’s often too many enemies to survive an all-out gunfight encouraging a considered approach, and if you get spotted and don’t want to duke it out, you can usually run away, hide, and try again. It’s a bit annoying that Nate still has no way to lure or distract enemies considering the emphasis on stealth, but its still great fun to hang off ledges and pull unsuspecting guards off with a yell. Gunplay feels a bit meatier than previous installments but the weapon selection is dull, although the scoped guns are supremely satisfying to use. Enemies show no new ideas – as in previous titles, the most evolved they get is to wear big suits of armour. The AI is decent at flanking you in gunfights, but in stealth is still contradictory – pulling in friends to investigate, like the Batman Arkham games, is cool to see, but the illusion falls apart a little when a goon doesn’t notice the guy who was right next to him suddenly vanishing when you take him out.
The rollercoaster ride continues with some great set pieces and beautiful locations, but unfortunately the last chapters of the game start to get a bit formulaic again and become quite linear, devolving into long shootouts. The story doesn’t resolve very satisfactorily either, with some odd and frankly unbelievable behaviour from the main characters, considering the situation. The game did have a troubled development, changing directors half-way through, and maybe the slightly disappointing last part of the game (especially compared to previous Uncharted titles) is a reflection of this.
But despite the ending, the high quality of the rest of the game, particularly the middle section, raises the bar enough to make this an essential adventure title. It’s a fitting swansong to the series, a playable post-credits epilogue wraps things up nicely. It looks amazing, with some of the best graphics seen yet on PS4. And it’s a polished, fun, action-packed ride which bids farewell to some much-loved characters. It’s also as fun to watch as to play, testament to its entertainment factor; I frequently had visitors with no gaming interest who got hooked watching me play. But it feels like we’ve seen enough of Nathan Drake and his adventures – now is probably a good time to put this series to rest, at least for now.
Thankfully A Thief’s End is no Crystal Skull – Nathan Drake can truly bow out in style and close the door on an epic series.
Have you played Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End? Are you going to pick up this title?
If so, please let us know your thoughts in the comments sections below.
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A highly polished, entertaining adventure – and a fitting end to the Uncharted series.